Penguins in the zoo are fascinating creatures to observe.

The million dollar Penguins are on the way…

When tax increases became apparent for the residents of Providence, WPRO’s Gene Valicenti, often a critic of zoos keeping wild animals captive, posed a question to Providence Mayor Brett Smiley during his regular scheduled “Ask The Mayor” segment.

The question? Why doesn’t Providence recall the COVID relief grant to the Roger Williams Park Zoo to buy penguins? With the city so much in need, wouldn’t these funds be better served on the people of Providence? Mayor Smiley responded that only projects he wanted to “cancel” and claw back on January 1st could be done if the checks hadn’t been distributed, the penguin project has been paid for – and the check has been cashed.

Listen to Gene and Mayor Smiley discuss the penguins from 10:56 to 12:00

We reached out to Roger Williams Park Zoo for comment. Since former Mayor Elorza’s funding, done at the end of his term, to bring back the penguins exhibit to the zoo, little, if nothing, has been heard.

A zoo spokesperson, Corrie Ignagni, Manager of Digital Communications, wrote back to us, “Thanks for reaching out! We and our community are anxiously awaiting the completion of this project and we cannot wait to welcome penguins back to the Zoo, which has been inactive for 10 years. Our anticipated date of the penguin exhibit opening is summer 2024. Completion of the redesigned exhibit will be driven by how quickly we are able to get through the design process in collaboration with our architect team and internal operations department. It will also be determined by weather factors and whether our construction team will be able to work through the winter months since much of the external work will be temperature/weather-permitting.

The Zoo has hired an architect, LDL Studios of Providence to design the project. Our kickoff design meeting was held last month in April.”

“The entire Rhode Island community will be as excited as we are when the new penguin exhibit opens because of these efforts, said Stacey Johnson, executive director of RWP Zoo. “The penguins left the zoo a decade ago, and we look forward to them returning and making a huge splash in Providence!”


The funding, $1.5 million dollars, comes from Providence’s American Rescue Plan Act money. On November 10th, 2022 Mayor Jorge Elorza and City Council President John Igliozzi presented a check for $1.5 million to the executive director of the Roger Williams Park Zoo. The money is part of the larger $124 million American Rescue Plan Act (ARPA) budget passed by the council and signed into law by the mayor earlier this year that funds significant long-term investments across the city following the COVID-19 pandemic. After a long absence, zoo officials say the funding will help bring a penguin exhibit back to the zoo.

About LDL Studios

LDL Studio Inc., owned by Glenn and Gary Lepore, with offices in Olneyville, Providence, describes itself as a fully licensed Architectural Firm located in Providence, Rhode Island, holding over 15 State Architectural Licenses, including active National Council Records (NCARB) for reciprocity in almost all 50 States. They specialize in “”Restaurants, Spas, Hotels, Hospitality projects, and University dining spaces, and we’ve completed over 300 successful Hospitality Design Projects since our founding”.

Our philosophy centers on designing and planning spaces & buildings for human enjoyment and interaction. We offer significant expertise and specialization in hospitality design throughout the United States and abroad.”

The only design publicly noted done in Rhode Island is Blue Sky Spaworks in Warwickk.

Back to Gene

At the end of the broadcast, Valicenti reiterated his public call on the zoo to return the money and to continue forward with the project if they want to, but use private money to do so.

We reached out to the zoo for a comment on this development, but no one has gotten back to us.

This is a developing story

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  1. LM on May 5, 2023 at 1:01 pm

    There are a million dollars to bring back penguins, build them a home, and care for them until they die. Is there a breakdown of the money that is going to be spent? How long do penguins live anyway?
    Every time there’s a referendum, there’s money for RWP. Of course, we have never seen a referendum we’ve never liked. They always pass even though nobody bothers to find out what the what it’s for, the initial cost, the time length, and the interest charged on a bond,
    I am an animal lover but I do care about people. These penguins are getting a home, as well as a pool, and will be fed and cared for. When election time comes around, we’re sure to see RWP on the ballot.
    Now – we have about 1000 homeless people in R.I. They don’t have a home, let alone a pool. Nobody is constructing a roof or feeding them except for the kindness of strangers and volunteers.
    I thought the ARPA was to fund projects meant to help people, to fix and repair projects that had been neglected for far too long.
    RWP is a beautiful place. It’s a large green attractive area in the middle of the hustle and bustle. It’s a get-away that costs pennies to escape to for a few hours.
    Couldn’t the penguins stay in the wild where they come from and the people who don’t have a place (let alone a pool) get some shelter?